Tara Purdy never dreamed she would one day see her articles in print. But she was one of the lucky ones whose article was chosen to appear in the pages of an annual glossy magazine.
Her subject matter is not one often covered by the national glossy publications sold on news stands. But that doesn’t bother this 14-year-old girl or her readership of some 3,500 young people in Norfolk.
These young people are united in their support of a magazine dedicated to the important role they play as the county’s workforce of young carers.
Since joining her local young carers’ group at Christmas, Tara has contributed three articles to the 2007 edition of Norfolk’s Young Carers magazine.
“My favourite part of the magazine is where everybody gets to write about their group,” she says. “I wrote about our Christmas dinner and the trip we had to Center Parcs.”
Tara believes the versatility of the magazine, which caters for young people aged from seven to 18, is one of its strengths.
“It gives other people a chance to see what goes on and for young carers to see they can get help,” she says. “Younger children can also read it, and it’s fun and looks very colourful.”
Keeping the magazine in an accessible format for its young audience is a priority for designer Sarah Thomas. Commissioned by Norfolk Council, Thomas has been responsible for producing the publication for the past four years.
In its first year, the magazine was produced on 12 A4 pages. But in the past three issues it has been printed on 24 A5 pages, following the trend of other magazines in adopting the more compact format.
Much importance is placed on the feedback from young carers, who are invited to an editorial day held during half-term in February. “It’s difficult to do something for young groups and it’s easy to do it wrong,” Thomas says. “We get lots of magazines aimed at their age group and we get them to pull them apart. We also spend a session pulling apart the previous year’s magazine.”
It is this regular process of self-evaluation that has helped keep the magazine looking fresh and vibrant. And for the first time this year, an agony aunt column was included in the magazine.
“When young carers saw the problem pages in other magazines, they asked if they could have the same in their magazine,” explains Thomas.
The idea has worked well, particularly because the format in which entries could be submitted allowed a degree of anonymity.
“This year we set up a website so young carers could submit stories,” she says. “But for the agony aunt page all the entries came in anonymously, which made it popular.”
A further enhancement to the magazine’s design was the inclusion of photographs of the young carers alongside their articles. Although Tara says she doesn’t like seeing her photograph in print, she agrees it has given the magazine a more personal feel.
Thomas explains: “We deliberately took lots of pictures on the editorial day in February. Previously, we found that somebody would write something really heartfelt, but we would not have any information about them at all.”
Such is the success of the project that Thomas says she has never been short of work to choose from. Most articles are written at the editorial day, which has been extended in the past two years to involve an afternoon of creative writing.
A more difficult task has been explaining to the young authors that there is not enough space to publish all of their work. This difficulty has been dealt with in part by Thomas explaining the production and editing process so young people can gain an understanding of how magazines are put together and the decisions that have to be made. Stuart Marpole, Norfolk Council’s service manager for children with special and additional needs, says the success of the magazine – which costs less than £5,000 a year to produce – is its heavy reliance on input from young carers. “The best thing we ever did was involving young carers in helping to produce the magazine,” he says. “A similar publication that does not have any involvement with young people is not going to work very well.”
Both Thomas and Marpole believe the magazine has been invaluable in reaching out to those young carers who may not be accessing support services. Marpole says: “Carers are a hidden group and this helps them to identify themselves. It also raises the profile of young carers and the support that is available to them from the council.”
● Understand your readership by holding regular focus group sessions.
● Be flexible about the design and format of your publication.
● Remind your contributors to submit work by sending out posters and fliers to local young carers’ groups.
● Ensure your publication has a good balance of true stories and creative work.
● Provide advice for those submitting articles and photos to help them meet your criteria.
● Use websites and e-mail for easy access.
This article appeared in the 9 August issue under the headline “Young carers say: ‘Read all about us!'”